Monday, May 5, 2014

"Town-sponsored sectarian prayer violates the basic rule requiring the government to stay neutral on matters of faith."

Daniel Mach
said : Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. He was expressing his disappointed by the United States Supreme Court's decision to upheld today a New York town’s practice of starting town meetings with official sectarian prayer. "We are disappointed by today’s decision.  Official religious favoritism should be off-limits under the Constitution," he said.

The practice was challenged by residents of Greece, a town in Monroe County, New York who objected to hearing government prayers, the vast majority of which were expressly Christian invocations, as a condition of attending public meetings.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend of the court brief supporting the residents of Greece.

"The constitutional requirement that church and state must be separated rests, in part, on the understanding that when government supports one religion over others, people who are not members of the favored religion are made to feel like outsiders by their government," said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Background :

Thirty years ago, in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court upheld the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with nonsectarian prayers delivered by a chaplain. The issue in this case is whether a town board in upstate New York may open its meeting with sectarian prayers that have been overwhelmingly Christian in practice. In its amicus brief, the ACLU urges the Court to overrule Marsh and hold that any official governmental prayer violates the separation of church and state. If the Court is unwilling to go that far, the ACLU argues that official sectarian prayers should be prohibited under the Establishment Clause to preserve the core constitutional principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another.

The Supreme Court held today that the town's prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.

"The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country," as per its website.

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